Practically Religious

Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan

Ian Reader
George J. Tanabe
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Practically Religious
    Book Description:

    Praying for practical benefits (genze riyaku) is a common religious activity in Japan. Despite its widespread nature and the vast numbers of people who pray and purchase amulets and talismans for everything from traffic safety and education success to business prosperity and protection from disease, the practice has been virtually ignored in academic studies or relegated to the margins as a uh_product of superstition or an aberration from the true dynamics of religion. Basing their work on a fusion of textual, ethnographic, historical, and contemporary studies, the authors of this volume demonstrate the fallacy of such views, showing that, far from being marginal, the concepts and practices surrounding genze riyaku lie at the very heart of the Japanese religious world. They thrive not only as popular religious expression but are supported by the doctrinal structures of most Buddhist sects, are ordained in religious scriptures, and are promoted by monastic training centers, shrines, and temples. Benefits are both sought and bought, and the authors discuss the economic and commercial aspects of how and why institutions promote practical benefits. They draw attention to the dynamism and flexibility in the religious marketplace, where new products are offered in response to changing needs. Intertwined in these economic activities and motivations are the truth claims that underpin and justify the promotion and practice of benefits. The authors also examine the business of guidebooks, which combine travel information with religious advice, including humorous and distinctive forms of prayer for the protection against embarrassing physical problems and sexual diseases. Written in a direct and engaging style, Practically Religious will appeal to a wide range of readers and will be especially valuable to those interested in religion, anthropology, Buddhist studies, sociology, and Japanese studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6400-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    Michiko Watanabe was an “office lady” in a major Japanese company. Normal company policy (as is so often the case in Japan) was to make all female employees retire when they got married or, if they failed to marry, to make them leave at the age of thirty. Michiko, however, loved her job and wished to continue working for the company as long as she could and, moreover, had no desire to get married. As her thirtieth birthday approached, she began to express her concerns over the impending loss of her job to friends, one of whom belonged to a...

  5. 1 Benefits in the Religious System: Settings and Dynamics
    (pp. 37-70)

    Hōzanji is a Buddhist temple situated on the upper slopes of the Ikoma Hills that separate the city of Osaka from the plains around the ancient Japanese capital of Nara. It is famed as a center of worship of Kankiten, a deity of Hindu origins and one of those many figures of worship that have been assimilated into Buddhism through its encounters with other religious traditions. Depictions of practices associated with the deity and aimed at preventing misfortunes and acquiring the support of Kankiten through ritual worship can be found in a number of Buddhist texts, such as theDaishō-ten...

  6. 2 Scripture and Benefits
    (pp. 71-106)

    The Todoroki Fudō Temple, the oldest Buddhist institution in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, is surrounded by a large grove of trees bordering a shallow ravine with a clear stream running through it. Because of recent efforts to eliminate its many polluting sources along the banks, the stream is clean enough for fish to thrive, and the path through the ravine makes for a walk that has the feel of mountain country rather than one of the world’s largest cities. The path quickly takes one away from the busy Todoroki train station and leads to an old wooden temple, a subsidiary of...

  7. 3 Buying Out Chance: Morality, Belief, and Prayer
    (pp. 107-139)

    It is a typical sight in Japan: a red Shinto torii gate marking the entrance, to one side of which is a tree with dozens of folded paper fortunes tied to branches laden with hopes for the auspicious predictions. Once inside, the people go through ritual motions and hold themselves in deep concentration as they make their offerings of coins in the hopes of gaining good returns. There is an air of great solemnity; few people speak, each absorbed in their performance. Located in a shopping area, it is a popular place that is almost never empty during the day...

  8. 4 The Providers of Benefits: Gods, Saints, and Wizards
    (pp. 140-177)

    Unlike the relationship between a man and a woman—which, as Sei Shōnagon (b. 965) described it, is “near though distant”—the zigzag path leading to the temple at Kurama is something “distant though near.”¹ Located in the mountains about seven miles directly north of the old imperial palace in Kyoto, Kurama Temple is not far in terms of the straight-line distance from the city, but even today, and more so during the Heian period when Sei Shōnagon wrote about lovers and the zigzag path, a trip to Kurama Temple takes one through mountains and forests that make it seem...

  9. 5 The Dynamics of Practice
    (pp. 178-205)

    Some years ago a Japanese friend of one of the authors made a visit to a famous Shinto shrine with her parents. She was unmarried and in her mid-twenties: in Japanese terms she was close to becoming a “Christmas cake”—a popular epithet used to describe unmarried women over the age of twenty-five. Just as Japanese Christmas cakes pass their sell-by dates and are far less in demand after December 25, so too, according to this phraseology, are women past their optimum age and in danger of being left on the shelf once they are past their twenty-fifth year. Although...

  10. 6 Selling Benefits: The Marketing of Efficacy and Truth
    (pp. 206-233)

    Since religions do not exist purely as teachings and practices apart from institutions, they survive and develop in ways necessary for the well-being of all organizations. Priests are aware that temples cannot exist without good finances—and that such support comes only with effort. If this-worldly benefits are to be purchased, they must be sold. Priests emulate the world of business in marketing these benefits, but they also use techniques of storytelling and preaching that developed in religious circles long before the appearance of commercial advertising. The possibility of combining traditional propagation methods with modern marketing is always there, but...

  11. 7 Guidebooks to Practical Benefits
    (pp. 234-255)

    The publicity and marketing strategies of priests and the temples and shrines they serve, the activities of companies selling religious amulets, the word-of-mouth proselytization that occurs as worshipers relate stories of their own good fortune—these are not the only sources publicizing the availability of practical benefits or creating a market for them. In this chapter we turn our attention to a further source of information on this matter: the numerous guidebooks that can be purchased at any bookstore. These guidebooks inform the general public about different forms ofgenze riyakuand where they may be sought, often drawing attention...

  12. 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 256-262)

    In discussing the practical dynamics and conceptual meanings ofgenze riyakuwe have dealt as much with commercialism, entertainment, and play as we have with questions of morality, spirituality, and doctrine. There is clearly a casual side to many of the issues and practices we have dealt with in this book, as well as a manipulative and coercive aspect in which gods may be cajoled into action for the benefit of petitioners. Just because behavior may at times be casual or commercial, however, does not render it invalid in religious terms: as we have shown in earlier chapters, the casual...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 263-284)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-296)
  15. Index
    (pp. 297-304)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)